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I smell dog shit…

January 20, 2016


By a certain age all of us have had some sort of personal relationship with dog shit.

Either you have a dog and have had to clean up after it, or have unexpectedly stepped in it at some point, have at least smelled it, and if not any of those things, have walked somewhere and seen it just laying on the ground.

We all know dog shit when we see it.

When the Toronto regional Goodwill stores – all 16 of them (plus 10 collection warehouses) – were suddenly closed Monday morning, putting 450 people out of work, with the CEO claiming financial crisis – I was as surprised as anyone.

Toronto Goodwill takes in free stuff and sells it dirt cheap to (mostly) poor people, students, and those looking for a thrift deal. They run out of mostly old run-down buildings, in or around, some of the poorest neighbourhoods. They receive millions in government and public grant money to support their work.

When Goodwill employees arrived to work on Monday, only to discover the stores were closed, the media quickly pounced on the fact that the CEO had an income of $200,000 a year, while the frontline workers worked for $12 an hour. That was my first sniff.

Then we hear that the workers were not told anything, coming to work as expected Monday morning. Then we hear that they will not be paid for their outstanding wages as expected this Friday (their regular payday), that their benefits were immediately cut off, that there will be no severance packages. Some of the employees have been with Goodwill more than 30 years. Sniff of dog shit #2.

Then we discovered that the CEO of this catastrophe is none other than Keiko Nakamura. This was my third sniff.

Why? Because Ms. Nakamura had been previously fired by the City of Toronto for “massive spending irregularities” when she was Chief Executive Officer of Toronto Community Housing. (For those who don’t know what Toronto Community Housing is, it is government assisted housing – i.e. low income housing. Housing for the poorest of the poor in Toronto.)

Now, do you know how much you have to fuck up before you are fired by the City? I have worked in Toronto non-profits for 2 decades – I have spend a lot of time working with city employees – from frontline to management. You really need to fuck up bad to be fired. She was fired.

So, when you are fired as CEO of Toronto Housing, how does one then get to be the CEO of Toronto Goodwill?

If I got fired in the non-profit world, the rest of the non-profit world wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot pole! Yet, here she is, making $200,000 a year for a non-profit that takes in free donations from the public and sells them to poor people who can’t even afford to go to WalMart. (The model is so supported that Goodwill receives millions in grants from the provincial government, United Way, and the City of Toronto.)

My mother, who volunteers at our small town charity that works on the very same model raises thousands of dollars a year for local anti-poverty and other community projects. And they do it without a single government grant. All the other Goodwills in Ontario say that they are doing great, and are as confused as everyone else as to what happened in Toronto.

Nakamura has been at Goodwill for little more than a year and it’s apparently so suddenly broke that they can’t even pay the outstanding back wages owed to their workers, or give severance packages to people who have worked for them for decades. All of which, I might add, is entirely against the law.

I smell dog shit.

And then it comes out today that the Board of Directors had resigned in mass – all of them – all together – all at once – the day before the stores were unceremoniously closed.

Now I know we have stepped in dog shit.

WTF! The entire board resigns the day before they shut the doors!

My heart truly goes out to the Goodwill workers. Because, if you have ever been to a Goodwill, you know that the hiring model is to help marginalized people get back on their feet. Many of those who work at Goodwill come from severe violence, addictions, hard poverty, racial marginalization, homelessness.

Goodwill and its measly $12 an hour was a big step up for people working hard to get their lives on track.

To have the rug so rudely pulled out from under them, by the very people trusted to help them re-victimizes them all over again.

I’m calling dog shit on this whole story.

The only thing we don’t know yet, is how high the dog shit is piled.



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